Durham's East Coast

THE COASTAL DENES.

The Crimdon Beck immediately north of Hartlepool forms the first of a series of small wooded valleys called `Denes' which are a regular feature of the County Durham coast. The best known of these is the attractive Castle Eden Dene, which joins the sea to the north of the cave infested Blackhall Rocks. The Castle Eden Dene, formed by the wooded ravine of the Castle Eden Burn, provides an ideal nature reserve for the town of Peterlee.

In prehistoric times, a large area of what is now County Durham formed part of a glacial lake which during a melting period cut its way through the limestone escarpment of the Durham coast to form the Denes at Crimdon, Castle Eden, Easington, Hawthorn, Dawdon, Seaham and Ryhope.

The names of the streams and denes on the Durham coast are of interest, because to the north of Crimdon they tend to have the Anglo-Saxon name `Burn' while to the south they are called `Becks' in old Viking style. The reason may be that the land south of the River Tees was formerly a part of the Viking Kingdom of Jorvik (York) while the area to the north of Hartlepool remained in the old Anglo-Saxon province of Northumbria, where the older `Germanic' dialect has partly survived.

PETERLEE

Peterlee is one of the North East's new towns, though few know it is also the site of a deserted medieval village called Yoden. The modern town was created in 1948, to rehouse growing populations from nearby mining villages. It is named after Mr Peter Lee, an important miner's leader who became the chairman of England's first all Labour council at Durham in 1909.

Lee was born in 1864 at Trimdon Grange, a colliery village in eastern Durham and at the age of ten he started work as a pony driver at Littletown Colliery, just outside Durham City. By the age of sixteen he had achieved the status of a coal hewer. In 1886 Lee emigrated to the United States, where he worked in the mines of Ohio, Kentucky and Pensylvania, before returning to County Durham in 1887. He died in 1935 at the age of seventy.

THE LEGEND OF THE EASINGTON HARE

Easington, a village to the north of Peterlee, was once the home of Nicholas Brakespeare, who later became Adrian IV, the only English pope. The village is also associated with a curious piece of local folklore; `the Legend of the Easington Hare'. This strange little creature had been persistently hunted on numerous occasions, throughout the countryside near Easington but it was extremely elusive, always managing to escape.

Finally one day, a hound managed to bite the leg of the hare just before it escaped into a hole in the wall of a nearby ruined building. The huntsmen were determined to capture the mischevious little beast and entered the building to search for it. To their astonishment they could only find an old woman nervously bandaging her bleeding leg. The building was searched throughout and there seemed to be no way that the hare could have escaped. Only one conclusion could be made, the old lady was the hare, the hare was a witch !.

SEAHAM BYRON'S UNHAPPY WEDDING

Three miles up the coast from Easington to the north of the Hawthorn Burn Dene we find the town of Seaham Harbour. The harbour was created in 1828 by the Marquess of Londonderry, whose family name of Vane Tempest is remembered in the name of a local colliery. Londonderry built the harbour for the shipping of coals from the collieries he owned at Rainton near Durham City.The poet Lord Byron (1770-1845), was married at Seaham in 1815. His bride was Lady Ann Isabella Milbanke, the daughter of a local squire.

The marriage was not a happy one and the unfortunate wife was later ridiculed in one of Byron's poems as `Lady Millpond'. Byron does not seem to have enjoyed his time at Seaham as in a letter to his friend Moore he complained; "Upon this dreary coast we have nothing but county meetings and shipwrecks; and I have this day dined upon fish, which probably dined upon the crews of several colliers lost in the late gales".

 

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